A few weeks ago, Sears ran an amazing promotion through the United MileagePlus Shopping portal. They offered 16 miles per dollar to MileagePlus cardholders (like me!) and they temporarily counted e-gift card purchases as qualified purchases. This meant that it was possible to get 16 miles per dollar for buying e-gift cards and another 16 miles per dollar when using them. Since I had just recently moved into a new house, I had a big list of stuff to buy and so I went on a massive 32 miles per dollar shopping spree.
It turned out that many of the items I bought were too big, too small, wrong color, etc. In other words, I had to make a lot of returns. I piled all of the misfit items into my car and lugged them to the counter at Sears. There, the cashier processed my returns one at a time and, each time, gave me a separate gift card for my return. She didn’t know how to put all of the returns onto one gift card for me. I left Sears that day with far too many separate gift cards.
I returned to Sears last week with a pile of gift cards from the merchandise returns, and a few others that I had lying around. My mission was to consolidate all of these gift cards into one.
Since the Sears near me doesn’t seem to have a separate customer service desk anywhere, I walked up to a regular cashier and asked her to consolidate my cards into one. “We can’t do that” she told me. I asked to speak to a manager.
The manager came and gave the same answer, but with a slight elaboration. “We can’t do that. Security won’t allow you to buy gift cards with gift cards.” I answered that there must be some way to do this. After all, I said, I could just use all of these cards to buy something expensive and then turn around and return it. That would accomplish the same thing, right? She considered that for a moment and then called someone, presumably “Security”. She told them what I wanted to do. Security told her it was OK.
I handed the manager my stack of gift cards. She took the first two and looked up the balances on each. She then rang up the amount on the second gift card to be moved to the first one. She asked my phone number to find me in the system and processed the “sale”. I was then asked if I wanted an email-only or an email + paper receipt. And then she did the same thing for the next gift card. And then she showed the cashier how to do this because she had other business to attend to. Each “sale” was taking several minutes to complete and a massive line was forming behind me. As the cashier fumbled with my gift cards I became increasingly nervous because she didn’t seem to know what she was doing. And, it didn’t help that the line behind me continued to grow. Finally, I gave up and said that I would deal with the rest of my gift cards later.
I walked across the store to another register to try a different approach. What if I were to buy a Sears gift card and pay for it with multiple Sears’ gift cards? Would that work? I started with a small test. I would try buy a $100 gift card with 3 smaller gift cards (including one Lands’ End e-gift card). The cashier was dubious about whether it would work, but she was happy to give it a try. As she started processing the purchase, her phone rang. I was worried that Security was watching. I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I could imagine that someone watching from hidden cameras might be concerned due to my strange behavior. In my mind I begged her to ignore the call, but she instead ignored my silent plea and answered it. It was just a customer asking a question. Whew. The sale went through without a hitch.
I looked at the pile of gift cards I had remaining. I had one large value gift card from the first attempt at consolidation. I had the $100 gift card I had just purchased. And, I had a number of miscellaneous gift cards still waiting for consolidation. I guessed the total value of the miscellaneous cards at close to $400. So, I crossed the store to find another register.
In the tools department, I brought a new gift card to the cashier and asked to load it with $500. Then his phone rang. Again, I hoped he wouldn’t answer it, but he did. Again, it was just a customer. Whew, again. When I told him that I would pay with gift cards, he said that buying gift cards with gift cards was not allowed. I asked if he was sure. I’ve done it before, I said. He picked up the phone and called Security. “Yes, he just wants to consolidate cards” I heard him say. He was given the OK. I paid for the $500 gift card with all of my remaining assorted cards, including the $100 card I had just bought on the other side of the store. And, I used a bit of the consolidated card from my first attempt. Ultimately I walked out of the store having successfully consolidated many cards into two. Good enough.
If you want to consolidate multiple gift cards at Sears, I’d recommend the following approach based on my experience:
- Calculate the full combined value of all of your cards before you visit Sears.
- Bring a new gift card to a cashier and ask to load it with the combined value of your miscellaneous cards.
- Pay for the new gift card with your old gift cards.
- If the cashier protests, explain what you are trying to do. If that doesn’t work, ask to speak to a manager. Be polite and nice, but insistent that this is a reasonable request.
If the store won’t let you buy a gift card with gift cards, then resort to plan B. Buy something expensive in the store with all of your gift cards. Walk to another register and return it. You should get a single consolidated gift card for your return. I don’t usually advocate buy and return schemes, but I think it’s ridiculous that they don’t make it easier to do this. So, I would make an exception to my rule in this case (see “Drawing the line“).
Have you ever tried to consolidate gift cards? What has your experience been?